CD Review: We Are Kin – Bruised Sky

BEM072 - We Are Kin - Bruised Sky - album coverWe Are Kin, a progressive rock quartet from Manchester, formed in 2011 when founding members Gary Boast and Dan Zambas met while playing together in pop band The Reclusive Barclay Brothers. Gary and Dan began discussing music during rehearsal breaks and very quickly realised they shared a love of progressive music. It was during these discussions that the pair embarked on the idea of collaborating and writing their own music to fulfil these progressive leanings. The resulting concept album ‘Pandora’ was released on Bad Elephant Music in 2014. For 2016’s follow up  ‘….and I know…’, a continuation of the Pandora story, Gary and Dan were joined by Emma Brewin-Caddy, experienced in working with choirs and focused on strong vocal harmonies, and experienced bassist Lee Braddock. 

But new album Bruised Sky sees We are Kin move away from the ‘universe’ of their preceding albums and is also the first true collaboration for the whole band. Keyboards player Dan Zambas explains: “this is the first album we’ve worked on as a full band. Lee gets to unleash his inner bard on one track, whilst Emma has written all the other lyrics for the album” andBruised Sky is a stand-alone, no story line album. It’s very much a band effort, subconsciously reflective and introspective”. He goes on to explain the significant departure from previous albums and lack of guitars: “I’ve been experimenting with different synth sounds and patterns”, and I was conscious that I didn’t want to play guitar. It’s important that we keep evolving as band, from Pandora, to ….and I know… and now onto Bruised Sky”

For evolution read progression. Their subtle changes enable them to retain their growing fan base and also encourage newer listeners such as me. So what do I hear? Strong vocals giving key focus, and textured soundscapes drawn by diverse keyboard sounds with good use of drum sounds and real drums for powerful effect. 

Opener ‘Circles’ is a four parter, initially Tangerine Dream meets Vangelis to begin with, but then creating three cyclical sections growing richer in melody and power as Emma Brewin-Caddy’s hypnotic vocals swoop and take flight. ‘The Fawn’ is a complex eight minutes of less accessible but equally haunting music, backward recording and layered tracking adding to the overall effect, with references (for me) of the kind of thing I remember from Portishead. ‘Leave Me Be’ is more accessible with a delightful melody over a cleverly constructed time structure and driving keyboard base, and is followed by an absolutely gorgeous title track, short but compact and beautiful in its simplicity. ‘I Won’t Go Back’ has a jazz and blues breath, albeit swamped in a crescendo of keyboards, and is a song, if given an R’n’B’ treatment (the modern as opposed to original kind) that would be a chart success. But that’s not this band’s ethos – discord and dissonance to upset the melodic and delicate balance is a key part, as evidenced on the 10 minute closer. But before that comes ‘Nothing More’ another example of structured sound layers and hypnotic rhythm, with a soaring, occasionally seemingly sharp, voice. Closer ‘Paper Boat’ typifies the approach, accessible vignettes interspersed by discord or self-indulgent keyboard sound interlude and (finally) expressive bass and drums. Progressive indeed.

It’s hard not to be left with a slight feeling of missed opportunity with most tracks mid-tempo and mid-song interludes seemingly self-indulgent. But there are plenty of positives. The melodic sections have real power, bolstered by the strong voice and good use of rhythm dynamics. The emotion is real, even if keyboard sounds are occasionally artificial. That said, the piano, when used, is a delight. It’s an album to grow into, one to applaud for its bloody-minded non-conformity, experimental mind-set and complexity to match its album cover, but it’s also one to relax and enjoy.
Tracklisting:

  1. Circles  
  2. The Fawn 
  3. Leave Me Be 
  4. Bruised Sky 
  5. I Won’t Go Back 
  6. Nothing More 
  7. Paper Boat   

 

We Are Kin are:  

Gary Boast – drums, percussion 

Lee Braddock – bass 

Emma Brewin-Caddy – vocals 

Daniel Zambas – keyboards 

 

All songs composed by We Are Kin.  

Produced, mixed and mastered by Gary Boast for Bad Elephant Music.

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